To be or not to be (happy)

That is the question.


On the surface the question seems like a no brainer. I mean, why would someone choose not to be happy, if they had the choice?


There is an endless amount of things to be unhappy about, no doubt, but surely it is not everything which deserves a dreary appraisal.


I understand the difficulty of assuming a more positive approach to life, especially in the midst of a global pandemic and a particularly tumultuous last five years in which every day felt like we’re all living in America, like the Rammstein song suggests.


The constant bombardment and saturation of negative media stories and future outlooks are enough to drive any sane person mad, any person into a state of despair and dread, and it’s no surprise why anxiety and depression figures are at record highs with a terribly worrying trend amongst our youth.


While it seems I’m just making a case to justify being unhappy – which I’m not – you have to understand why people are unhappy in the first place.


And what defines happiness? For some it is contentment and peace of mind, for others it is a fleeting by-product of pursuing a meaningful life. It may just be a joyful state, a good mood or period of bliss. For someone like Schopenhauer happiness was more to do with the elimination of pain and the satisfaction of desires, whereas Alan Watts danced to the tune of “do the things that are delightful to you, you thereby become delightful to others.”


He has the most who is most content with the least. - Diogenes

A person’s emotional state is subjected to numerous factors, but most of the time we can improve it through a change in thought process, appraising a situation slightly different or how we perceive the world.


A man is as unhappy as he has convinced himself he is. – Seneca

What we are aiming at in life heavily influences are perceptions and regulates are emotions. So, it is distinctly possible that your aims might be what is causing your unhappiness (or happiness, for that matter).


A lot of people tend to allow their happiness to be dictated by things beyond their control, but as the great stoic philosopher Epictetus wrote:


There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will. – Epictetus

A good recipe for a happy and fulfilling life:

  • Family

  • Friends

  • Intimate partner

  • Meaningful employment (or at least being good at your job / doing a noble effort)

  • Having meaningful interests outside of work


I’d say if you have those five ingredients, you’re more likely to have a rewarding life and less likely to be unhappy. It can be easier to see now why those without one or more of these are unhappy and potentially depressed or anxious.


As I said at the start, there is a never-ending list of things to be unhappy about; economic, social, individual, political, environmental. However, if we realise just how much control we have over our thoughts and feelings – indeed, our happiness – we can start to wind in that wide-spreading net of emotions that is getting caught on anything and everything in our lives.



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